Incanto – San Francisco, California

Incanto Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar
1550 Church Street
San Francisco, CA, United States
Incanto on Urbanspoon

Incanto has been on my food radar for as long as I’ve known about its existence. As I’ve slowly developed an urge to participate, eat, and learn about various head-to-tail establishments, any restaurant that is headed up by offal aficionado Chris Cosentino, would in essence, fit the bill. So with our plane arriving on Wednesday afternoon, I knew our travel food cravings would be taking over and made a reservation for the earliest sitting; 5:30.

Arriving to the area just after 5 o’clock allowed Sarah and I to walk around and enjoy the scenery. With Incanto’s location far from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s center, most locals were noticeably surprised by our visit to this “non-tourist area”. The neighbourhood, like many in San Francisco, is being gentrified, and local real estate possibilities quickly showed us the 1-1.5 million dollar spaces were far from our reach. 😉

With the doors opening (notice their is no exterior handles) at the crack of 5:30, Sarah and I were welcomed warmly into the comfortable space. A mix of 2 and 4 tops, along with two longer tables (10 or so) allow for everything from intimate affairs to family style dining. As we sat, and chatted with our server, I was happy to see Chef Cosentino working his magic in the open kitchen; I think it says something about a restaurants character when you see this. Not big drinkers, Sarah and I ordered sparkling water and were more than pleasantly surprised to find both sparkling, and flat mineral water to be on the house. Free sparkling water…maybe our very local Blue Pear should take note. As well, we were quickly delivered a plate of mix breads and olive tapenade. Nothing says San Francisco like sourdough!

I’d noticed a tweet earlier in the day by Chris, who mentioned that many new items would be on the menu for this specific evening. Inquiring with the wait staff, we discovered two new appetizer dishes that sounded great. First up – heirloom tomatoes, roasted eggplant, & tonnato sauce. The mix of heirloom vegetables and local tuna was amazing. The roasted plants were rich enough on their own, but when combined with the creamy tuna based sauce, they were outstanding.

Our second choice was marinated local sardines, cherry tomatoes, sunflowers and capers. I could tell Sarah didn’t seem too excited about the sardines, but the local Monterrey bay product was beyond both of our expectations. Piled on a bed of some of the most flavourful tomatoes I’ve ever had the joy of putting in my mouth, the sardines and sunflower sprouts combined for a texture and taste explosion. As they knew we’d be sampling both dishes, share-plates were brought out during both the appetizer and main course. Something so simple, yet so smart.

Going again with something new, Sarah was stuck between a few choices before settling on Poussin, Sicilian eggplant, chilli & mint. While it again may sound simple in its stripped down description, the taste was the exact opposite. The young chicken gave way to a mix of crispy skin and moist meat on top of superb eggplant.  The sauce was wild with a steady heat that just continued to build through the meal, only to be tempered by the occasional bite of soft, perfectly charred eggplant. Yummer summer indeed.

Without much offal on the menu (we’d both hoped for cow heart tartare), I contemplated the beef cheek & garden greens, only to be seduced by our servers description of the nights pork offering. Described as pork, watermelon & heirloom tomatoes, you can imagine the menu did little to seduce me. When it was placed in front of me however, I saw a gorgeous, almost sultry chunk of perfectly cooked pork belly, slices of leg, and those delicious heirloom tomatoes again. Oh and the watermelon, lets not forget about that. Following a nose-to-tail mentality here, the watermelon rind is cut from the fruit and pickled for your eating pleasure. I loved that this dish, which was heavy enough as it was with the belly, is made more refreshing by the additional fruits, instead of being made heavier by some sort of starch and carb. Again, just like poussin, this dish was a textural masterpiece.

For dessert Sarah and I decided to share a plate. The choices which included rose geranium panna cotta and kadota fig & mascarpone crostini was delicious no matter how you looked it. Having never eaten a corn cake before, Sarah made the final cut and selected the heirloom corn cake, Douglas fir ice cream & blueberry. With an ice cream that sounded pine-y, we’d soon find out that crazy ice cream concoctions are all the rage in San Francisco, where local producers are making every combination from balsamic vinegar to roasted peppers. The corn cake was spongy, without being dense, and easily dissolved in our mouths. The ice cream, which just had a hint of that fir and was taken over the top by the lemon rind; while the blueberries (which were hard to split) finished the dish, and the evening, like a good slow dance.

As Sarah and I sat there drinking locally roasted coffee, we couldn’t help compare this meal to everything we have experience back home. From the service and atmosphere, to the meal and it’s prices; there is nothing that can compete. The casual, and from what we gather, laid back restaurant would make a noticeable difference on my waist line if I lived near by. And for this I’m glad, not just because it’s so dangerous, but because it was so damn good that if I ever find myself in the area again, I’ll beeline it straight to fifteen fifty church street; something I suggest you do as well.


14 thoughts on “Incanto – San Francisco, California

  1. I can’t believe Costentino was actually there! We haven’t been to Incanto, but have visited Boccalone Salumeria in the Ferry Building many times and have never seen hime 😦
    Unfortuantely the food at home simply can’t compare to the fresh deliciousness of San Francisco, so savour every minute!

  2. WOW! Man, that looks good! I do share your partial disappointment to the fact there was no offal, though. I wonder if it was sort of sheer coincidence and you might find it some other time… :S

  3. I’m so glad that the experience was not disappointing despite the lack of offal on the menu. Glad Chris was there at the helm I’m sure it made the evening that much more special.

    • With a menu that changes daily, I was fully aware that many of the offal items come and go on the menu as the week (and stock) goes by. This did however, not deter from the evening or the splendid experience that we shared. A big success, and one of the best meals I’ve eaten.

  4. What a fantastic meal. The local sardines had me singing. I am surprised that the offal was slim on this menu. The chicken looked so flavourful and was a huge serving…
    This is also on my list to go to next visit there (to visit my daughter – so it “should” happen). 🙂
    I am so surprised you didn’t pop up (as you were there early) and ask for a tour of the kitchen and a meet with the chef! That was really surprising. I love being early enough – or late enough, to do that. And, I am certain that he would have been thrilled to hear of your admiration for his kind of food. Also, next time ask for the tartar… most restaurants like this will make you what every you want, if they can.
    Now, how much was it? My tacky question. But, you did say at the end that nothing could compare in Edmonton, so I am assuming it was reasonable… I suppose I could go to the website. OK. I will.

    • Valerie, the meal ended up being $83 before tax. An outstanding price in my opinion, with many of the dishes in the high teens and low twenties. Keep in mind there is a also a 5% tip included that in their words:

      Incanto is one of a small number of U.S. restaurants that includes a partial service charge (5% of the total bill) on each diner’s check because we are concerned about the widening wage inequities that exist between tipped employees and non-tipped employees in San Francisco’s restaurants. Although our talented, hard-working waiters and bussers deservedly receive much of the recognition and financial reward for serving your dinner, our equally diligent cooks and dishwashers also provide a critical part of your service. We use the funds from this service charge to offer comprehensive medical benefits to all our full-time employees and to share part of the rewards from each night’s work with non-tipped kitchen employees.

      • That has to be the best use of a service charge I’ve ever heard of. Wow… that is so incredibly cool, thoughtful, and respectful to his staff. I’m glad he is sharing with the world his philosophy.

      • I would consider that a killer deal based on the spread in front of you. And that’s actually quite a sweet way to explain the service charge.

        If you’re venturing a little away from the core and heading up to Michelin Star Valley aka Yountville, I highly recommend Bistro Jeanty. For a Michelin star resto, the bill for 2 was just $100.

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